The Oath, 2016.
Directed by Baltasar Kormákur.
Starring Baltasar Kormákur, Hera Hilmar, Gísli Örn Garðarsson, Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson, and Þorsteinn Bachmann.
Icelandic auteur Baltasar Kormákur (Contraband, 2 Guns, Everest) directs and stars in this psychological thriller about a father who tries to pull his daughter out of her world of drugs and petty crime, only to find that danger can be found in unexpected places.
Is taking a life justifiable when the outcome is potentially saving a life, or more specifically, correcting the trajectory of a path set on drug abuse and crime? Such is the thematic pondering in Icelandic filmmaker Baltasar Kormakur’s (101 Reykjavik, Everest, Contraband) The Oath, a Nordic thriller that sees a grieving father take matters into his own hands regarding his daughter’s relationship with a lowlife drug dealer and small-time criminal. Naturally, the environment has Anna hooked on illegal substances subsequently causing her future to spiral into nothingness (knowledge is doled out early on that she has even quit college courses).
In addition to co-writing and directing The Oath, Baltasar Kormakur stars in the leading role as lovingly concerned father Finnur, a highly respected surgeon and all around quiet man, who gradually thrusts himself further and further into danger. The film opens up with the family undergoing a grieving process for Finnur’s father, and it’s that haunting loss that seemingly drives him to extreme lengths to secure some level of stable living for his daughter. He doesn’t really account for the fact that despite the uglier sides of Anna’s relationship, they might truly be in love, instead choosing to spring into action after a distressing event at a party. In his mind, he can’t afford to lose another family member, especially due to poor lifestyle decisions.
The Oath moves at breakneck speed for a thriller, which both has benefits and detracting aspects. Outside of a few moments, we aren’t given enough time to accept this relationship; most viewers will likely be on the side of Finnur and with good reason. There isn’t much in the script that explains why these two are attracted to each other, or why Anna feels compelled to embark on a lifestyle filled with drugs. Things just are the way they are, not offering up a captivating dynamic until the later stages of the film involving some tensely acted exchanges between Finnur and Anna’s boyfriend. There is, however, one scene between the couple during the middle of the film that captures a tender moment between these unconventional lovebirds, but it’s a shame there isn’t more considering that the interaction accomplishes its purpose and serves up some terrific acting. On that note, the performances across the board are fairly terrific; Kormakur is very restrained, saying a lot with body language.
As a result, once The Oath kicks into this gear the line between right and wrong is muddled, leaving audiences asking the aforementioned questions brought up at the beginning of this review. Of course, there are a few cliché and predictable moments along the way (gee, I wonder if the father who coincidentally is a surgeon will have to operate on his mortal enemy), but the film does successfully get its point across. With that said, it also doesn’t feel like a movie with enough bite to actually stick in the mind after the credits roll. It also does not help that there are a number of characters without much personality or purpose to the overall narrative, which begs the inquiry of why the script didn’t choose to spend more time with characters that matter or show us this off-putting relationship through a lens of empathy. Such things would dramatically spike the intensity of the core dilemma at the heart of the film.
The majority of the elements here are definitely paint-by-numbers hard-boiled elements, but the acting and moral dilemmas are assuredly enough to push this one into the territory of easily recommended. Faults aside, it is still a return to form for Baltasar Kormakur, as his recent foray into American studio movies were certainly a drop off in quality (Everest had about 5,000 characters climbing the mountain including Jake Gyllenhaal who literally had nothing to do, which is basically a crime against cinema factoring in his acting skill at this point in his career). The Icelandic language and locations also do add an extra layer to a fairly standard crime thriller.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com